There’s a house I used to live in when I was a kid. I still drive past it. Mostly it was just Mum and I living there, sometimes it was a revolving share house of friends, family and kids in crises care. You could say my childhood was not your typical margarine ad. Mum worries that somehow she let me down, but the thing is I only remember it being a happy house. I knew we were different, but most of the people I knew growing up had widely varying households to each other. We were all unique and for that reason we were all “normal”.
My second family lived around the corner. They were, as my oldest friend says, my “Wog Family”. My Mum and I were her “Dogger Family”. We lived in each other’s kitchens, from the moment we met on the street aged five. Her Nonno lived across from us and I would watch her visiting him, his meals would get delivered to him every day, lovingly made by my “Italian Mother”. I was fascinated to see their strong ties play out in front me each day. I felt lucky to be a part of it.
My friend challenged authority, I was more of a follower. We were perfect together. She had brodo and crostoli, we had baked beans and popcorn smothered in butter and icing sugar. We ate with our plates on our lap in front of the telly, they ate at the same time each night, at the table; a bowl of salad, fresh panini and a carafe of wine were nightly staples.
Our street was a mix of young and old, between us we knew nearly everyone. Our days would see us running from house to house, doors slamming, bikes resting against gates, dogs yapping, the juice of stolen peaches dripping down our chins. If we played it right we’d get lollies from the family on the corner with the big guard dogs, fresh broad beans down the road, Mars Bar slice from our mate’s house, a Paddle Pop from the shop when we hand delivered the notes and cash to the shop keeper to get cigarettes for someone’s parents. We’d squeal and dash past the old man with tourettes who’d scream obscenities at us as we passed his gate. “Fuck, shit, cunt,” he’d yell. I think he hit the neighbour over the head with a saucepan or a shovel or was it the neighbour who hit him? Whatever the real story, he left shortly after to spend some time in a hospital.
My friend and I stood side by side at her Nonno’s funeral. I’d seen grief before, after my other best friend, who also lived down the street, died. So much grief. But I’d never seen her Mum so sad. I can still remember the pain etched on her face. Each time our neighbourhood lost a fixture our hearts were torn apart. The mood on the street forever altered. I’d look at his house from my front porch and the soul was gone from it. It must have been hard for my friend to glance out and see memories flash by her eyes.
She still lives in the neighbourhood, right next door to her parents, with a beautiful family of her own. When I visit, I can feel everything from my childhood around me. A gate is a jail where we’d put the prisoners. A porch is a stage where we’d dance to Hey Mickey. I see us riding our bikes, hiding behind trees. I remember the night there was a guy with a gun, birthdays, farewells, life changing moments. I catch glimpses of cats of the past – there were many.
I feel the eyes of me, as a young girl, staring back at me. Am I everything she thought she’d become?
I sat on a plane recently next to an older woman. She looked very familiar. As we were landing she asked where I lived and at that moment I knew who she was. Her eyes were kinder now, she had moved away to a new life. I remember sitting with her daughters and my friend, while they teased my hair. I was their “Aussie Guissipina”. I recounted the story to her and her eyes smiled. “I am much happier now”, she whispered. She was brave to let go of her past.
I am lucky that my past is not one shrouded in fear or disappointment. OK, except for when I ran away in my underwear because ET did not win the Academy Award – that cuts deep. And the moment Mum stacked the kitchen chairs on my bed after watching Poltergeist. That did scare the shit out of me. Mostly, I look back at my childhood and think how lucky I am, to have not just my own little family, but another one just down the street. One I will cherish for all time.
As time goes by, I grab tightly onto my childhood, as it slips further away from me.
What are your childhood memories? I loved rollerskating – you can read about it here.